| The Wood River High School drama students have taken on Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” and say the language is more difficult than Shakespeare because of its puritanical setting, but they accept it as a challenge they chose for themselves. Express photo by David N. Seelig
The dangers of social networking framed in puritanical Salem are being explored by students at Wood River High School in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.”
Drama teacher Karl Nordstrom called Miller’s work “a mouthful” and one of the hardest his class has ever undertaken dialogue wise, but said the story had so many parallels to today’s world that the class decided to perform it.
“The play was written in response to McCarthyism,” Nordstrom said.
It was a time in the 1950s when Hollywood and others were being scrutinized after Sen. Joseph McCarthy made a public accusation that more than 200 communists had infiltrated the U.S. government. The term “McCarthyism” now is used to describe false accusations without evidence. In the play, Miller uses an accusation of infidelity and witchcraft to serve as the ignition device to explore the process that ends with many innocent people hanged—19 of them.
“It shows just how easy it is to ruin someone’s life just with an accusation,” Nordstrom said. “That’s particularly true today with a 24-7 news cycle and the Internet.”
Taylor Lenane as Abigail, the temptress maid of a minister, John Proctor, and his long-suffering wife, Elizabeth, at the center, explains her character’s motives: “She really is in love with John Proctor and she really wants to be with him. She takes it too far. Even when people start dying, and she knows the truth can stop it, she won’t lose face.”
Katie Walton, who plays Elizabeth, says Miller “must have experienced and really understood the ‘mean girl’ mentality—he knew that no one stands up to them and that they will band together.”
Though the characters are unlike today’s teens in language, dress and even in response to witchcraft, they are instantly recognizable, as is the wanton storytelling that goes on in the halls of schools every day.
“All it takes is a little truth and a little lie told to another person for something to take root,” she says.
Nordstrom said the class had discussed placing the story in modern times, but decided to stay true to the script, giving credence to the longstanding ideas and relevance for a contemporary audience.
The hysteria generated by one misrepresented incident could easily be equated to the political climate today, in which any little thing is amplified, re-created and recast for the benefit of the teller.
Drake Arial is John Proctor, a good man who did a not-so-good thing, but nothing compared to what he stands accused of.
Arial says the individual characters are shocking to the point of funny, but that the results of their collective madness underscore the seriousness of truth.
Proctor represents the value of holding firm to one’s beliefs, even when one’s life is at stake. It shows how some people get so wed to a lie that they can’t stop telling it, no matter the cost.
“He was tempted, but he stuck with what he believed in until the end,” Arial says.
Adds Nordstrom, “It shows how hard it is to retract something once you hit send.”
Judge for yourself
Show times: Opening night, tonight, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m., continuing through Friday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, is a matinee at 1 p.m. Tickets are $4 for students, $6 for seniors and $8 for adults, at the door of the auditorium at the Community Campus in Hailey.